I know you’re all wondering, dear blog readers, so here we go — I’m going to address why good writing gets rejected. It has happened many times that I get a great story, full of believable characters, with good voice, and one that’s well-written. Sometimes I jump all over it and offer representation. Other times, though, I hesitate. These end up being the most difficult decisions for me. Why do I hesitate? Because this is the thought in my head: I really like this, but can I sell it? This, my friends, is why manuscripts get rejected — even when agents love them.
In other words: Is there a larger market for this? What do I think? Will publishing houses agree with me and buy this?
Why Good Writing Gets Rejected: Is There a Market for Your Story?
And this is a very difficult thing to say for sure. TWILIGHT was rejected by a dozen or so agents because, I bet, most people didn’t see a market for teen vampire romance. They were wrong. Very wrong. This is one reason why manuscripts get rejected — the inability to predict unpredictable market trends. If agents had crystal balls, Stephenie Meyer’s first manuscript would’ve been snapped right up.
Since I don’t have a crystal ball, I talk to editors and read publisher catalogs, follow publisher and librarian blogs, read industry publications, go to trade shows, the whole shebang. I also stop into every book vendor I see (from the neighborhood indie to big box stores to the airport) to browse and see what books are on the shelves there (what books that store is selling and keeping in stock because that store sees demand for those books). I see what queries I’m getting in and listen to rumors about the next big thing. Even with all this research, I don’t know everything that will succeed in the marketplace. Some books that I’m sure will sell, don’t. Other books that I’m iffy on, go to auction.
Even if I Love a Manuscript, My Job is to Sell Books
The most I have is an educated guess, a passion for the project and a gut feeling. It’s persuasive but not guaranteed. That’s what makes the “why good writing gets rejected” question so difficult. Even if I love it, there’s still a voice in the back of my head: “Can I sell this project? Is there a market for it?” When my gut and my market knowledge tells me “no,” I tend to waffle and put the rejection off anyway. Because it is — technically — a good book, and I don’t want to let a talented writer go. But it’s that last detail of selling it to a publisher and eventually getting it into the hands of readers (you know, my job) that prevents me from taking on every single good book that comes into my inbox.
A Different Agent Might Connect with Your Story
The great thing is, there are many agents with many different sensibilities. So if you’re trying to crack the code around why manuscripts get rejected, the answer might be to just query another agent. There are the types of (sad) agents who passed on TWILIGHT because they didn’t think they could sell it. Then there’s the one who took it on and is very much enjoying that decision. When I see a good book but decide that I can’t personally see a way to pitch it or imagine which editors will love it and buy it, there’s another agent out there who probably can.
It really does come down to that with the most difficult rejections I make. At those higher levels, the deciding factor regarding why good writing gets rejected is the fit and the passion. The projects I end up taking on are those that I’m 100% passionate about and think I can sell to publishers. A writer deserves nothing less from their representation. If I reject a great project, it’s usually because I’m not feeling confident and creative about the selling part. Someone else, though, might feel completely differently. (For more on this topic, check out my post on how to write a book that sells.)
Now, that’s not to say that I’m hot to reject the next TWILIGHT. If anyone has that kicking around, please do send. 🙂
When you hire me as your novel editor, I’ll push you to produce a piece of work that balances emotional resonance with commercial appeal.